On November 7, the people of Maine might abolish their for-profit utilities through a ballot initiative.
If approved, the ballot initiative would withdraw the operating license held by the state’s two for-profit utilities and transfer the assets to Pine Tree Power. Pine Tree Power would be a new nonprofit utility owned by all residents of Maine.
The Maine ballot initiative is officially called Question 3.
The case for a public electric utility
Supporters of this change argue that Maine’s current utilities function as monopolies. They are also among the most disliked utilities in the country.
Altering the system could enhance unreliable service and decrease costs by eliminating the profit motive in the provision of electricity.
In recent years, a concerning number of Mainers have received inaccurate utility bills. In the fall of 2017, 97,000 Mainers received power bills that were at least 50 higher than they should have been.
Moreover, the initiative’s organizers assert that breaking away from utility profit incentives is essential if Maine is to quickly decarbonize its electric grid. Climate activists nationwide have made a similar case, arguing that the traditional utility business model poses an obstacle to significant climate progress.
According to Canary Media, Central Maine Power and Versant collectively provide electricity to 97% of homes and businesses in the state. They are considered “wires utilities,” responsible for maintaining grid infrastructure without generating power.
However, their actions influence the ease of launching solar projects and electrifying Maine’s heating and transport industries. The current unreliability of these utilities poses a barrier in persuading many homeowners to electrify their residences and vehicles.
Opponents of the ballot initiative argue that a public utility would be too expensive. These opponents include Janet Mills, Maine’s Democratic governor.
The vote’s likely outcome
Polls regarding the Maine ballot initiative have produced widely varying results.
A recent survey conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center reveals that 56% of participants support maintaining the status quo, while 31% support creating a public utility.
Another poll commissioned by the Climate and Community Project shows a tie between the two sides. Both camps are at 37%, and 25% of voters remain undecided.
Given the high stakes and significant financial involvement, the Pine Tree measure has gained widespread attention as the most-watched issue on this year’s ballot. Although it’s an off-cycle election, the focus on grid ownership is considerable.
Even if the initiative is successful, the timeline for transitioning to community-owned power remains uncertain.
Public power utilities in the United States
Almost all US states have public electricity utilities. However, Nebraska is the only state where 100% of utilities are publicly owned.
Although most climate activists support the passage of Maine Question 3, many argue that a federal power utility would be even more effective.
Currently, there is no single entity responsible for organizing America’s power grid. As a result, long-distance transmission lines (which are necessary to transport wind and solar energy from remote areas) typically need to obtain consent from multiple regional utilities. This slows down renewable energy development significantly.
Image Source: Spectrum News, https://shorturl.at/bEV19